If you look at any map of South America, Chile’s string bean shape will be obvious. It is also the world’s longest country at 4,329 km from north to south. On average, it measures 177 km in width. It is also the most isolated country on the planet. The Pacific Ocean forms its western boundary, while the towering Andes divide it from Argentina.
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The Atacama in the far north is the most deserted area of the planet, while the south is home to a mix of Patagonian fjords, glacier-carved valleys, and Patagonian fjords. This stunning geography makes Chile an eye-opener and a paradise for hikers, offering some of the most beautiful day hikes and multiday treks in South America.
The W Trek
The five-day, four night W Trek through Torres Del Paine National Park is the most iconic hike in Chile’s stunning backcountry. This 71-kilometer hike is the most well-known in Patagonia. It takes you through the stunning granite spires of Paine Grande and the horn-like rocks at Los Cuernos. You will also pass the huge Glacier Grey, which is part of the Patagonian Ice Field. Also, you’ll be able to dip into the glacier-lined French Valley, and camp alongside the turquoise waters of the park’s glacier-fed lakes.
You have two options to start the W Trek: you can take a ferry across Grey Lake and take a bus to Refugio Las Torres. You have the option to make the trip as luxurious or simple as you like.
You don’t need to bring your own gear, or you have higher standards than staying in a tent or rustic refugio. You can still experience the best of W Trek, but with luxury options like guides and stay at eco-yurts or lodges. If conditions allow, many of these operators offer trips to glacier walks or kayaking.
Strong winds and sudden weather changes can cause delays in your exit. At the peak of summer, backpackers are a constant presence on the trail. Consider a trip to Patagonia in March or April (Patagonia’s fall), when winds are less strong and the trails are more quiet. Temperatures will still be very reasonable.
The O Circuit
The O Circuit adds 50 km to the W Trek and is the most intense Patagonian hiking experience. This trail is amazing because you not only get the best of the W Trek but also have the opportunity to see remote areas of Patagonia that very few people can.
The O Circuit is a 9-11-day trip that runs in a clockwise direction from Laguna Amarga. There is a limit of 80 people per day on the trail, so it is easy to find peace and solitude.
Highlights of the O Circuit include Campamento Los Perros’ spectacular view, Dickson Lake and Perros Glacier. There are also stunning views from the Patagonian steppes that run along the Rio Paine.
Only a few campgrounds and refugios are allowed to provide accommodation for the remote portions of this trip.
Cochamo Valley Trek
Cochamo Valley is known for its stunning waterfalls and granite domes. You’ll need to follow a cowboy trail for 10 km to reach it. This cowboy trail looks almost exactly the same as when Butch Cassidy (and the Sundance Kid) were on the run through the Andean hills over a century ago.
Start your muddy trek from Cochamo. It will take you six hours to reach La Junta, a remote outpost with campsites and refugios. This is where you can explore the valley. Many people spend several days in La Junta, to explore the many hiking and climbing routes that lead up the granite domes.
The Hotel Espacio and Tiempo, which is owned by the owners, offers a comfortable place to stay with home-cooked meals. You can return to Cochamo, or continue onward to Argentina at Paso El Leon.
Valle de la Luna Day Hike
The Atacama desert in northern Chile is best explored by long drives to the Altiplano at high altitude. Short walks are possible once you reach the destination. Valle de la Luna, however, is an excellent spot near San Pedro,, where you can enjoy some fantastic day hikes. This includes the five-kilometer trek starting at Tres Marias (a trio of gnarled rock formations).
The Great Dune is the destination. You will follow a route that crosses the Salt Mountain Range and through many other geologically unusual formations. Many tourists take a guided tour from San Pedro to see the trail, which is not well-marked. Tours depart in the evening so that they arrive in Valle de la Luna just in time for the sunset. The Casa Solcor Boutique Bed & Breakfast is a great option if you’re looking to spend the night in San Pedro. It has comfortable beds and a small swimming pool that you can use to cool off after a long hike.
Cerro Castillo Circuit
This lesser-known circuit trail, located about an hour from the Balmaceda airport, is known as “the next W Trek” and is a great choice for backpackers who want a multi-day hike off the beaten track. You will travel 43 km through Cerro Castillo National Reserve over four days. This route takes you around castle-like spires on the park’s nameake mountain.
This long, strenuous journey will reward you with stunning views of turquoise lagoons and endangered huemul deer. You should be prepared for difficult stream crossings and mountain passes as well as hikes on loose scree. Guides are available in the Villa Cerro Castillo service village and the regional capital, Coyhaique, about 1.5 hours from you if you’re not up to the task.
You want to outdo your hiking friends? This is the southernmost multi-day trek anywhere in the world. The 53-kilometer long Dientes Circuit, which is five days in length, takes you through the rugged, wind-blown backcountry at Isla Navarino. It’s located right where the Andes are buried beneath the Arctic Plate. You’ll pass through four mountain passes, a few scenic river valleys (many are dammed by beaver ponds), and reach breathtaking overlooks that offer views of the Drake Passage or Cape Horn.
To begin your hike, take a ferry from Punta Arenas, Argentina, or Ushuaia (Argentina). A professional guide is highly recommended as conditions can be extreme. Lakutaia Lodge is a friendly lodge that offers good food and helpful guides.
Villarrica Volcano Hike
The most popular adventure activity in Chile’s spectacular Lakes and Volcanoes District is climbing the active Villarrica Volcano. Although you don’t require any previous mountaineering experience whatsoever, a professional guide is required. You can book with a tour outfit in Pucon. They will provide you with all the gear and equipment you need to climb the snowy peak and see the crater.
To allow enough time for the summit and return to Pucon at nightfall, most trips depart before dawn. You can take comfort knowing that 15,000 other people make the same safe climb up Villarrica every year.
Robinson Crusoe Island Trail
Many people don’t realize that Robinson Crusoe’s fictional tale is based on the real life experiences of Alexander Selkirk, a castaway from Scotland. He was a Royal Navy officer and a Scottish privateer. He spent over four years on an uninhabited South Pacific island off the coast Chile. The island is part of the Juan Fernandez Archipelago and now houses approximately 800 Chileans, who live in the small hamlet San Juan Bautista.
You can follow the footsteps of Robinson Crusoe Island’s real Robinson Crusoe by trekking the 13-kilometer route to the town. You’ll be able to see more than 100 endangered plant species as you hike through this unique area. There will be noisy Juan Fernandez hummingbirds and colonies of fur seals.
The Mirador Trail of Pan de Azucar
Tourists to Pan de Azucar National Park are attracted by the wild surfing beaches, beachfront campsites and waddling Humboldt penguins. To see this hidden corner of the Atacama desert, should take the nine-kilometer Mirador Trail. It departs from the small fishing village of Caleta Pan de Azucar.
The day-long hike is easy and passes by prickly cedars, ambling guanacos, and occasionally a desert fox. It leads to a lookout that offers breathtaking views of the rugged coastline. Camanchaca, which is a sea mist that comes in from the Pacific, gives the entire area a lot of coastal vegetation.
Exploradores Glacier Ice Hike
Enjoy a guided hike through Chilean Patagonia’s Exploradores Glacier. This amazing sight is part the Patagonian Ice Field, which is the third largest source for fresh water in the world after Antarctica and Greenland.
A 1.5-hour journey from Puerto Rio Tranquilo through a scenic valley to reach the ice requires a hike of seven hours on the ice using crampons. As the glacier slowly sinks from its high perch in the Andes, the routes through the caves and crevices will change.
The Hanging Glacier Moraine Trail
Ventisquero Colgante is Chile’s most popular attraction. It is also known as “the Hanging Glacier”. You can get the best views by hiking the six-kilometer out-and-back Moraine trail, which starts at the visitor center and ends on the other side of a rickety suspended bridge. Before the hanging glacier appears, you’ll see the PuyuhuapiFjord as well as the milky-green TempanosLagoon.
This glacier reached the sea nearly a century ago, but it has since receded to the point that its meltwater is erupting in waterfalls.
El Morado Glacier Trek
Cajon del Maipo is the best option for a memorable day hike near Santiago if your Chile trip doesn’t have enough time. The El Morado Glacier Trek is a great way to see a glacier. It’s located near the tiny hamlet Banos Morales.
This trail, which is eight kilometers long, takes you deep into the Andean bowl with peaks above 5,000m and leads you up to the San Francisco Glacier. You can return to Banos Morales and rest your tired bones in the scenic hot springs. You will need snowshoes if you are arriving in winter.
Siete Tazas Day Hike
Siete Tazas, a lush oasis in a dry corner of Central Chile, has seven “cups” filled with crystal-clear water that cascade through narrow gorges. You will need to hike for four kilometers along the trailhead close to visitor parking in order to see the cups.
Split the journey with stops so you can take a dip upriver in the pozas or test your skin’s thickness in the cold waters below the stunning La Leona Waterfall at trail’s end.